Saints, Bears set to meet in matchup of NFC playoff hopefuls
The Saints' defense showed some improvement at home last Sunday despite giving big chunk plays to the Panthers. They did not force any turnovers. They only sacked Teddy Bridgewater once. However, that sack pushed back the Panthers eight yards, resulting in a missed game-tying field goal attempt from 65 yards. With that win, they moved to 4-2, a half-game out of the playoffs and division lead.
The Bears, meanwhile, traveled to Los Angeles on Monday night but failed to bring their offense. Nick Foles and Co. managed to score just three points. They gained only 279 yards. Part of the problem was one of Foles' passes intercepted in the end zone and another one was picked off at their 41-yard line late in the fourth quarter. The defense provided the sole touchdown by returning a fumble midway through the third quarter. At 5-2, they trail the Packers by a half-game in the NFC North and are in a three-way tie for the top wild-card spot.
The Saints have a slight edge in the head-to-head series, 16-15, and the teams have evenly split the 18 games in Chicago. However, the Saints have won the five most recent meetings, meaning a win this weekend would be their first in this series since 2008.
New Orleans at Chicago
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 1 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Saints -4
Three Things to Watch
1. The Saints' passing game without their stars
With the absence of Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders last Sunday, Drew Brees spread around his completions to a variety of teammates. As occurs in every game, Brees frequently targeted Alvin Kamara, and they connected all eight times for 65 yards. Marquez Callaway served as the most frequently targeted wideout, catching eight of ten passes thrown to him for 75 yards. Tre'Quan Smith and Deonte Harris each hauled in four each, for 54 yards and 46 yards plus a touchdown respectively. Tight end Jared Cook had three receptions for 32 yards and a touchdown. Three other players caught one pass each.
Can the Saints' passing game remain as productive with Thomas questionable due to an injured hamstring and Sanders on injured reserve? Before Sunday, Callaway had only caught five passes for 50 yards in the two previous games after not catching any in the first three weeks. Harris played in the first four contests but contributed just seven receptions for 55 yards. Cook had his highest reception total since pulling in five during the season-opener. Was last Sunday an outlier or proof that the offense has dependable receivers besides Kamara?
2. Nick Foles vs. New Orleans' secondary
Opposing teams have enjoyed padding their statistics against the Saints' defensive backs. Opponents have exceeded 220 yards through the air in five of six contests so far. The Saints have allowed an average of 2.83 passing touchdowns per game, the highest mark in the NFL. Three opposing players (Darren Waller, Allen Lazard, and Mike Williams) racked up 100 or more receiving yards and at least one touchdown reception against the Saints defense.
Foles took over for Mitchell Trubisky in Week 3 in Atlanta. He came off the bench to throw three touchdowns and helped to pull out a victory. However, he recorded only three touchdown passes in the next four games. He has averaged 237.8 yards in his four starts this season but never exceeded 250 yards in any contest. Part of the problem lies in the fact that he's been sacked eight times. Additionally, Foles will be confronted with this question...
3. Can the Bears' offense function without Allen Robinson II?
Robinson is in the NFL's concussion protocol after landing face-first on the turf late in the fourth quarter against the Rams. His absence would hurt tremendously, as he has more than twice as many receptions and receiving yards as any other wide receiver on the squad. He is tied for second on the team with two receiving touchdowns. Robinson compiled more than 100 receiving yards in two games while none of the other Bears have exceeded 76 yards through the air in any game.
Who might fill Robinson's shoes if he is limited or held out of the game? Tight end Jimmy Graham has four touchdown receptions, double anyone else among the Bears, plus 27 receptions (second-most on the team) and 234 receiving yards (third-most). Wide receiver Darnell Mooney ranks second on the offense with 236 receiving yards and fourth with 21 catches. Running back David Montgomery has the third-most receptions (25) and fifth-most receiving yards (184). Anthony Miller sits in fourth place in receiving yards (189) and in fifth place for receptions (19).
These teams share a few notable traits heading into this game. Both trail their respective division leaders by half a game. Each is unsure if its leading receiver will able to play and to what extent. They also look formidable on one side of the ball while also appearing weak on the other.
Where they draw a distinction is the rest of their offense, where New Orleans has a clear edge. And with the way that the current NFL rules are enforced, the advantage goes to the team with the stronger offense.
Prediction: Saints 27, Bears 17
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.